This year, winter has brought colder weather than many of us have seen in long time. Even if you live as far south as Florida or Louisiana, chances are good that you’ve been struggling with how to stay warm this winter.
A Wet & Forget fan recently wrote in and asked us about the best space heaters to help her deal with the frigid temperatures, so we did some research and put together this guide for choosing the best space heater for your family’s needs.
Use this guide to help you stay warm and toasty in spite of the cold weather!
Convection Space Heaters
Convection space heaters are designed to heat the air in your office, bedroom or other room. To do this, they use steel chambers filled with a heatable liquid such as oil.
The heater’s design causes the air in the room to pass across the heated chambers, where the hot material can warm up the air. The newly-heated air then rises to the ceiling and pushes the colder air down towards the heater.
The circulation of warm and cold air eventually warms up all of the air in the room. Many heated-oil convection heaters have a radiator-style design (see photo above).
Some convection heaters use fans to help the process along. Convection heaters with fans are the best space heaters for quickly warming up a whole room, although they are noisier than fan-free heaters.
One example of a convection-type heater with a fan is the popular forced-air ceramic heater, which has internal ceramic panels that retain heat and warm the air that comes into contact with them, and a fan that pushes out the warm air and helps to circulate it around the room.
Ceramic forced-air heaters come in compact sizes, or in larger tower-style designs. Some forced-air heaters even oscillate to spread the warm air around more quickly.
- Capable of warming up a whole room (depending on the size of the room and the heater’s power). This means that you don’t have to be right next to the heater to enjoy its warmth. This doesn’t mean you won’t want to spend “quality time” with your convection heater, though, like Molly the Cat in the photo above.
- More energy-efficient than most other space heaters.
- Safer than some other heaters, because the outsides don’t generally become as hot as other heaters. This can be especially important if you have pets or small children in the home.
- Oil retains heat for a long time, which means that an oil-filled heater can stay warm for a while even after you’ve turned it off.
- Heaters with fans can be noisy.
- Convection heaters take longer to warm up, especially those that use oil and those that don’t have fans.
- Convection heaters are less effective in open spaces. They work best in rooms that you can close off to contain the warm air.
- Oil-filled heaters can be heavy and difficult to move.
- Some oil-filled heaters can have a strange odor.
Radiant Space Heaters
Radiant space heaters use a quartz tube or a ribbon element similar to the filament in old-fashioned light bulbs. The tube or filament heats up, and the heat radiates outward to the area in front of the heating element.
Radiant heaters are designed to quickly heat the area right in front of them, which makes them ideal to use in your office if you’ll be sitting at your desk, or to warm you up as you watch TV in the evening. They are also the most energy-efficient option for keeping you warm if you plant to spend just a short time in the room.
For example, if you have a little-used room in your home that you don’t keep heated, such as a den, you can turn on a radiant heater to keep you warm if you need to spend some time there. Radiant heaters are not designed to heat a whole room, though–they focus on heating the objects right in front of them (you) instead of heating the air in the room, as a convection heater does.
- Radiant heaters work much more quickly than convection heaters.
- These are the most energy-efficient heaters to keep you warm for short periods of time in a cold room.
- Perfect for small areas.
- Can work better in drafty areas, such as outdoors or in large rooms that you can’t close off, where the draft sweeps the warm air away.
- Radiant heaters will only heat the objects right in front of them. They don’t work well for the whole family.
- Radiant heaters do not warm up the whole room.
- The outside surface of radiant heaters can become extremely hot, making them a burn hazard for children and pets and increasing the risk of fire if they’re placed near curtains or other flammable materials.
- The reddish glow that these heaters emit can annoy some people.
Combination Space Heaters
Combination space heaters use both convection and radiant heat to warm you up. Most use 80% convection heat and 20% radiant heat.
These heaters typically use a flat panel that contains quartz or glass, and which pulls cold air in through the bottom of the panel and pushed warm air out through the top. You can usually mount the panel on the wall, which saves floor space.
Because combination heaters use 20% radiant heat, they heat up more quickly than pure convection heaters. Because they use mostly convection heat, the outside of panel heaters doesn’t become dangerously hot, which is a problem with radiant heaters.
- Wall-mounted design saves floor space.
- Heat up more quickly than oil-filled convection heaters.
- Generally come with more elaborate controls, including a thermostat and timer.
- Light and easy to transport.
- Quiet, fan-free operation.
- Combination heaters take longer to warm up a room than heaters with fans.
- These heaters are typically more expensive than other types of electric space heaters.
Space Heater Safety Tips
Unfortunately, no form of heating is without risk. Consumer Reports recommends using fuel-burning heaters indoors only in emergency situations, because they come with the additional risks of open flame and carbon monoxide poisoning, which is why this article focuses on electric heaters.
There’s risk involved with using electric heaters too, though: The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that portable electric heaters were involved in about 1,200 fires per year between 2008 and 2010.
Here are some essential tips from the CPSC and Consumer Reports for staying safe while you use your electric space heater:
- Never leave unattended. Make sure that there is an adult in the room any time the heater is plugged in, so a child or pet cannot accidentally turn it on. Never leave your house while the heater is running, and never use a space heater in a child’s room. Make sure not to leave the heater on while you are sleeping.
- Correct placement. Put non-wall-mounted heaters on a level, flat surface where children and pets can’t reach them. Carefully follow the directions for mounting wall-mounted units. Keep combustible materials such as curtains, bedding and paper at least 3 feet from all sides of your space heater, and keep spray cans, paint, gas cans and matches far away from your space heater.
- Keep dry. Don’t use space heaters in damp or wet areas such as bathrooms, unless they are designed for indoor-outdoor use. Never touch an electric heater if you are wet.
- Proper ventilation. Keep the intake and output areas of the heater free from obstruction.
- Take care of the cord. Run the heater’s cord above carpet and rugs, so you can see to step over the cord and not damage it. Don’t use an extension cord with your electric heater. Make sure the plug fits tightly into the outlet you want to use. If the plug can wiggle around when you’ve plugged it in, use a different outlet.
- Check for damage. Carefully inspect your heater before you use it, even if it’s brand new. Never operate a damaged heater.
- Safety features. Make sure the space heater you buy is safety certified, with safety features such as an automatic shutoff in case it overheats or tips over
Space Heater Reviews
We all like to know how well a product works before we buy it. Here are some space heater reviews:
“The Best Space Heaters” by Real Simple
“The Best Space Heaters” by This Old House
“Hottest New Space Heaters” by Good Housekeeping
“3 Best Space Heaters” by Consumer Search
“Review: Envi High-Efficiency Electric Panel Heater” by Apartment Therapy